Have you given up on a dream or are you still holding on? In Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Dreams,’ the author illustrates the importance of having dreams.
In this lesson, we’ll summarize the poem and analyze what Hughes meant.
Importance of Dreams
The woodworker Geppetto knew all about dreams. In the Disney classic, Pinocchio, he crafts a wooden marionette, dreaming that one day his puppet might be a real boy. Geppetto even makes a wish on a star, for as the song says, ‘When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.’ Geppetto’s wish is granted and the wooden puppet known as Pinocchio becomes a real boy.
It’s an elementary example, but a good lesson about holding onto your dreams no matter the obstacle. A poet with a similar message is Langston Hughes, whose poem, ‘Dreams,’ in a short and sweet style, urges readers to hold fast to their dreams. Let’s break down the poem and then take a deeper look at what Hughes may have been trying to convey.
Text of ‘Dreams’
Since it’s so brief, let’s read the poem ‘Dreams’ in its entirety for clarity and meaning:Hold fast to dreamsFor if dreams dieLife is a broken-winged birdThat cannot fly.Hold fast to dreamsFor when dreams goLife is a barren fieldFrozen with snow.
It’s only two stanzas and eight lines long, but ‘Dreams’ offers some basic instructions to those who read it: keep hold of your dreams, because without them the world can be a brutal world. Let’s analyze the poem.Hughes starts out by immediately admonishing readers with a simple piece of advice: to ‘hold fast’ to your dreams. These aren’t the types of dreams you have at night while you’re fast asleep, but rather the dreams of your future, the things you hope for, or the goals you want to achieve.The author continues by telling us what will happen if we allow our dreams to die.
Life overall, he says, is a ‘broken-winged bird that cannot fly.’ That’s pretty dire imagery, isn’t it? Essentially, the author is saying that dreams help to give our lives purpose and meaning, and without them, life is harsh and difficult.In the second stanza, Hughes again urges readers to hold fast to their dreams. In this instance, the author compares the loss of a dream to living in a cold and barren field. Have you ever been out in a cold and barren field? There’s no life, no joy, and nothing grows.
Analysis of ‘Dreams’
Langston Hughes uses a few techniques aside from the language he has chosen to help drive home the importance of his message.
First, the brevity of the poem itself tells us that Hughes feels a sense of urgency when relaying this message. He has chosen his words carefully and deliberately to help the reader understand the importance of having dreams and holding on tight to them.He uses a literary device known as a metaphor, or a comparison between two separate things. For example, life without dreams is a ‘broken-winged bird’ and later a ‘barren field.’ These are both stark and melancholy images, aren’t they? The words ‘broken-winged bird’ paint a picture of a hurt or injured bird struggling to fly.
The reference to a barren field portrays a cold and bleak environment where nothing can flourish or grow.Dreams, according to Hughes, give life purpose and meaning. They can help you avoid the plight of the bird that is broken or the field that cannot produce crops. They strengthen and sustain you. While telling readers to hold onto these dreams, Hughes also tells them what will happen if they let go. They will suffer the same fate as the injured bird that is unable to soar or be faced with a life that is cold and hopeless.
Hughes is so motivated to tell readers to hold onto their dreams that he essentially uses the same type of wording twice. Both stanzas of the poem following this type of format:
- The first line tells you to hold fast to your dreams.
- The second line talks about dreams dying or dreams going.
- The third and fourth lines compare a life without dreams to something broken or desolate.
‘Dreams’ by Langston Hughes encourages readers to hold fast to their desires and goals, because without them, life is bleak and without hope.
Just two stanzas and eight lines long, the poem conveys a sense of urgency. In ‘Dreams,’ Hughes employs the use of a metaphor more than once when he compares life to both a broken-winged bird and a barren and frozen field. This helps paint a picture for readers of the consequences of not holding onto his or her dreams.